How S.M.A.R.T. are your goals?

By Jon Bottari, M.Ed. – Colorado Technical University Adjunct Faculty

CTU Student Success - SMART GoalsThe word “smart” can be defined in many different ways. Such a seemingly simple word can mean anything from bright and quick-witted to the more negative connotation of being insolent. In the 1980s more meaning was added to this simple word when George Doran, Arthur Miller and James Cunningham used “smart” as an acronym to define a goal setting process to be used when managing people.

While the initial intent of the S.M.A.R.T. goal theory was developed for managers to manage others, the theory is applicable in most any goal setting scenario. To further justify the validity of this goal setting practice, Dr. Edwin Locke and Dr. Gary Latham conducted a research project on the theory. They came to the conclusion that understanding the following simple rules can lead to more successful goal attainment and overall improvement in performance:

S = Specific

Specify the goal you want to accomplish by answering the following questions:

  1. Who is involved and who may need to be involved in the future?
  2. What is it that I want to accomplish?
  3. When exactly to I want to have my goal accomplished?
  4. Why? Identify the purpose and the benefits you will gain by accomplishing the goal.

M = Measurable

The best goals monitor progress. It’s very difficult to know where you are or what more you must accomplish if you have no benchmarks. For example, earning a degree has several measuring sticks including, grades for individual projects, discussion board participation and, of course, your G.P.A. These types of targets allow you to see where you may need to readjust or refocus.

A = Attainable

Challenge yourself while setting your goals, but don’t make them so far out of reach that you lose motivation. A goal to win the lotto sounds incredible, but you have little control over such a random event. Set goals that gives you as much control on the outcome as possible. You want to have a say in the results.

R = Relevant

Align your goals with something meaningful. So if buying a home is important to you, how does that measure up to your other related goals like saving money? Are you speaking to a realtor? Your long-term goals should align with the short-term goals you’ve set. While the bigger picture is that you want to buy a home, it’s just as important to focus on the smaller steps that will help you achieve the bigger dream.

T = Time bound

This is the most commonly missed aspect of goal setting. Make sure you can point to a time in the future when you expect to achieve the goal. When you’re setting goals beyond five years, it’s helpful to back that goal up with smaller, short-term goals that you need to accomplish along the way. Keep in mind that setting a date to a goal doesn’t limit you. Always be willing to adjust your timeline when necessary.

Setting goals is a good practice for everyone. You’ll use it in all aspects of your lives from your education and your career to your personal life. A clear objective makes any goal, large or small, easier to reach.

To close, here’s an example of a SMART goal so you can begin crafting your own:

“I (specific) will graduate (specific/attainable) from CTU by using all of the resources provided (specific/attainable). I will do this by earning a 3.0 GPA or higher (measurable/relevant) and will remain focused (relevant) in order to finish by the year 2014 (time bound).”

Give it a try, and feel free to share what you come up with in the comments. 


CTU Adjunct Faculty - Jon BottariAs an adjunct professor of general education at Colorado Technical University, Jon Bottari, M.Ed., helps prepare new students for academic and career success. He earned his Master of Education degree with a specialization in Leadership of Educational Organizations from American Intercontinental University and serves as CTU’s Director of University Operations. See why he’s in.


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Image credit: Flickr/lululemon athletica


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